Most pigs raised in American piggeries are fed a GE diet these days; typically, a mixture of GE soy and corn. Howard Vlieger, who is the second co-author of the study, had noticed differences in pigs fed a GE diet compared to those given non-GE feed, and he was one of the primary instigators of the investigation. Dr. Carman explains what got them started:“The two main things he was seeing was an increase in intestinal problems in pigs fed GM feed, particularly an increase in stomach inflammation. He was also seeing things such as a thinning of intestinal walls, and hemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can… bleed out from its bowel within 15 or so minutes.The other thing he was seeing was a reduced ability to conceive in the sows (female pigs) and higher rates of miscarriage in female pigs fed GM crops. [In] communities in the United States that still use boars to inseminate their sows… he was also seeing a reduction in the number of piglets born.”They decided to take a proper look at these phenomena. Dr. Carman has been an outspoken critic of the protocols used by the genetically modified food industry for their safety assessments, so she was careful about the design of her own study. Generally, industry safety protocols fall into two main camps:
- What the industry calls a “safety assessment” is really nothing more than an animal production study, Dr. Carman notes. Using significant numbers of animals, they feed some the GE crop, and another group gets non-GE feed.But the outcomes industry researchers look for are typically irrelevant to human health. These studies are basically done to reassure primary livestock producers that if you feed this GM feed to your animals, they will live long enough to get to market and produce a good yield.
- The second type of studies done are animal studies to determine if a product is going to harm human health. These are quite rare within the GE industry. Here, a very small number of animals are typically used, who are then given GE feed. Sometimes, however, they may not even feed the animals with the GE crop in question. Instead, they might just use the “active ingredient” or in this case the particular plant protein that has been inserted into the plant.For example, a small number of animals might receive a GE protein, and the effects of a singular dose are then noted over the course of seven to 14 days. If the animal (usually a rat) doesn’t die, all is presumed to be well. Crazy as it seems, this is sometimes the main safety assessment performed by the industry. Even more remarkable, sometimes, the protein tested doesn’t even come from the actual GE plant, but rather from the bacteria they genetically engineer to produce what they hope is the same protein. As Dr. Carman notes, this kind of testing is not going to reveal the long-term health outcomes associated with eating the GE food over the course of years, or an entire lifetime.
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